Drake is ready to tell his story again. In the beginning of his career, the rapper/singer/actor was on the verge of rap stardom off the foundation he built from 2009’s So Far Gone, and he returned to the topic of fame again and again, seemingly obsessed with finding his place in the rap world. Two albums later, the 26-year-old Toronto native leaves little room for debate: Like it or not, he’s the new voice of a generation with a mission to stay ahead of the curve. His appeal comes from owning various lanes—whether you’re a fan of his soul-baring lyrics or his confidence, there’s a Drake for you—but the fact remains Drizzy’s moment is now. He’s made anthems for people to live by (“The Motto,” “No New Friends,” “Started From The Bottom”) and managed to keep his name in the conversation after a summer filled with albums from J. Cole, Mac Miller, Kanye West and Jay Z. Although the ascent of Kendrick Lamar, Drake’s fiercest competition, has been undeniable this year, the OVO general has left little room at the top. Consistently, he’s delivered a number of hit records, dropped hot guest verses and sold big numbers for his albums. With the throne for the taking, Drake wants to claim what he views as rightfully his with Nothing Was The Same.
Drake sets the bar high with his album opener, “Tuscan Leather.” The song kicks off with “Comin’ off the last record, I’m getting’ 20 million off the record/Just to off these records, nigga that’s a record.” The statement confirms a more aggressive Drake, puffing up his chest more often than not to show his authority. “I’m tired of hearin’ ‘bout who you checkin’ for now/Just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now,” he boasts later on the Whitney Houston-sampling intro. This approach is indicative of Drake’s evolving formula: a comfortable balance between self-reflection and self-promotion. On previously released non-album tracks like “5 AM In Toronto,” he fired on all cylinders with menacing rhymes, and here he stays on the same course. With six minutes spent over three different instrumentals on the intro, Drizzy sets the tone for an album that focuses on his larger ambitions (“On a mission trying to shift the culture”) and his acceptance of mega fame (“I’m just as famous as my mentor/But that’s still the boss don’t get sent for”).
But Drake’s competitiveness is only one piece of the puzzle. Another part of Nothing Was The Same is his willingness to share his insecurities with a global audience. More than ever, the record is filled with narratives of former flames, betrayed lovers, strained relationships and tales of living in the moment all presented through Drake’s knowing eye. Once again taking cues from Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, Drizzy goes half-tender and half-tense for mass consumption. On “Worst Behaviour,” he reminds us why muthafuckas never loved him, while he flips the script on the Jhene Aiko-assisted “From Time,” talking about reconnecting with his father. These reflections are direct, capturing his conflicting emotions, growing anxiety and personal growth. It continues on the Sampha-featuring ballad “Too Much,” which finds Drake confessing his troubles over a lithe, moody beat. “Hate the fact my mom cooped up in her apartment, telling herself/That she’s too sick to get dressed up and go do shit, like that’s true shit.” Drake still can paint revealing portraits, even when he’s in a different space creatively.
Drake isn’t the only star of the album, as he’s paired again with Noah “40” Shebib who produced the bulk of the record. Drizzy and 40 continue to develop their soundscapes, stripping away some of the excesses of Thank Me Later and Take Care to find an even chillier, more emotionally potent sound. The backdrops are carefully thought-out and blur the lines of genre, paying homage to hip-hop classics while still nodding to other genres like disco, soft-rock and quiet-storm. When Drake is utilizing both rapping and singing (a staple of his), the melodies are tighter, almost blending him into the luscious beats presented on the album. The most notable example is “Wu-Tang Forever,” which flips the Wu’s “It’s Yourz” into a brooding song over stark pianos and a deep bass. Later, the track transitions into “Own It,” which showcases the pair’s knack for picking the right combination of sounds that flow flawlessly. 40 on Martin Scorsese, for real.
The most obvious question is if Drake has a contender for album of the year here. It’s apparent throughout the record that Drake thinks Nothing Was The Same is so good that none of his contemporaries can best him. Drake wants to hold the spot as an innovator, and his signature style is grasping onto newer territories every day, influencing artists in the rap world and beyond. With the themes, moods and issues displayed here, Drizzy has shared another moment of his life, and now the only thing left to prove is if his crossover powers can last him a decade from now. Until that moment arrives, we’ll be waiting on it. –Eric Diep